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Back in the Day
“Okay, listen to me close. Okay, baby?” Frenchie said as she closed the top of her silk robe. She looked down at her young son, who looked up at her, confused about what she was asking him to do. She walked over to him and knelt down so she was looking him in the eyes. She grabbed his right hand and flipped it, palm up. She placed a neatly folded fifty-dollar bill in his hand.
“I want you to take this down to Nephew’s house and…” Frenchie dropped her head in shame. She took a deep breath and continued, “Give him this. He is going to put something in your hand for me. Okay?” Tears began to form in her eyes. She was ashamed of what she was sending her naive little boy to do.
“Okay, Mama,” Basil said. His young mind couldn’t wrap itself around that he had to go cop drugs for his crack-addicted mother. She owed so many dealers on the block, she couldn’t show her face anymore. She had managed to run up a tab with any dope boy willing to give her credit. To avoid a beating or maybe something worse, she had to send Basil to the wolves. Frenchie couldn’t risk going out and being caught by one of her dealers.
“When he puts Mama’s package in your hand, you best not open your hand until you get home. Got that?” she said, pointing her finger directly into his face.
“Yeah, I got it, Ma,” Basil said as a wave of fear overcame him. He was too naive to understand that his mother had just done the hardest thing that she’d ever had to do in her life. She chosen her desire to smoke crack over the well-being of her only child. Basil didn’t notice the tears in her eyes. He only noticed her stern voice and the finger that was being pointed in his face. He knew when Frenchie did that, she meant business.
Moments later Basil walked through the projects on the south side of Flint, making his way through the concrete jungle. The hot summer evening made the air moist, and the streetlights were just flicking on as day settled into dusk. He heard the vulgar conversation of the winos who stood under the streetlights, and the chatter of the working girls who hid in the crannies of the darkness, waiting for oncoming cars to approach.
“What you doing out here, li’l nigga?” he heard a hooker yell out, but he ignored her and kept pushing, heading toward Nephew’s unit at the back of the projects. The boom of the sound systems blasting out of jeeps and the horns blowing were chaotic around Basil. The deeper he went into the projects, the darker it got. The streetlights had been shot out, and it seemed as if the street noises were growing dimmer and dimmer. His heart was beating so fast that it felt like two baboons were trying to escape his chest cavity. The fear began to creep in slowly. Basil held his head high and continued to make his way. He saw men standing in the shadows, waiting for a play to make a sell. Basil approached Nephew’s building, and the flickering light from a lamppost provided the only illumination. A bum was sitting on a chair by the door, singing an old gospel tune with a half-full bottle of malt liquor in his hand. Somehow, the song sent chills through Basil’s body as the broken harmony serenaded the air.
“Wade in the water … wade in the water now, children,” the old man crooned as his too-big clothes hung off of him and the smell of liquor reeked from his body. Basil cringed, flinching as he brushed past him. He finally made his way into the unit, and the smell of urine and filth invaded his nostrils. He quickly headed to the rear, where Nephew resided. He stared at the two doors before him, both being Nephew’s spot. Nephew had somehow gotten a wall knocked down, turning two midsize apartments into one large suite. Nephew was the head man in the projects and well respected. He was a hustler in every sense of the word. He sold weight but he also broke his weight down and sold rock for rock. No money was too little for him and he was loved by everyone because of his humility. Nephew really was a man of the people and that’s why he didn’t feel threatened by living in the middle of his trap.
Basil knocked on the door and he could hear someone approaching from the other side. Seconds later the scrape of deadbolts being unlocked sounded. The door slowly opened and Basil looked at the man that the streets called Nephew. He’d taken on the name because of his position as a young hustler; all of the OGs called him their nephew, and the name just stuck. He was light brown with a good grade of hair. He stood about five-ten and was of medium build. The smell of marijuana and the smooth sounds of Sade hit all of Basil’s senses at once. He looked up at Nephew and was mesmerized, as he always was by him. Nephew was the coolest guy in Basil’s book. Nephew looked down at Basil and had a look of disappointment on his face when he realized that Frenchie had once again sent her son to cop on her behalf. Nephew quickly shook off the notion of guilt and smiled with his pearly white teeth.
“My li’l guy.” He reached down and gave Basil a pound. “Come on,” he said as he looked around and then stepped to the side to let Basil in.
As soon as Basil walked in he noticed the red carpet on the floor. Nephew must have just had it installed because it looked and smelled new. Basil looked around in amazement. He’d never actually stepped inside of Nephew’s apartment. Basil always stayed at the front door while interacting with him, but now he was walking into Nephew’s world. Basil looked over at the couch and noticed two women tangled wildly together, both passed out. Their huge sets of breasts were on full display. One girl was completely naked and the other girl had on a dress that was pulled down to her waist. Basil’s eyes then shot to a table where a huge mound of powder was also on full display. Basil didn’t know what it was, but he would soon find out.
“What’s up, li’l man? Frenchie sent you around here again?” Nephew asked as he walked past Basil.
“Yeah,” Basil said, almost in a whisper.
Nephew made his way over to a small golden Buddha statue. He reached down and took the head off, which opened up like a candy jar. That’s where he kept his crack cocaine. He always felt bad when he served little Basil, knowing that it was wrong, but his hunger for money always prevailed. He looked over to Basil, and that’s when Basil opened his hand and exposed the fifty-dollar bill. Nephew pulled out two grams and wrapped them in a plastic sandwich bag and tied a knot, all in one swift motion. He then walked over to Basil and took the fifty dollars and placed the rock in his palm. Basil never looked down, just as his mother requested, and he gripped the bag tightly, knowing that Frenchie would kill him if he lost her package. Basil turned to walk out of the door and Nephew called after him.
“Yeah,” Basil said timidly as he turned around.
“You’ll understand when you get older. Cash rules everything,” Nephew said, feeling guilty and understanding that he had to explain his greed to the youngster. Basil nodded his head as if he understood, but his adolescent mind couldn’t grasp the ideology. Basil disappeared into the dark hallway and made his way back home to deliver crack to his mother.
Frenchie impatiently peeked through the blinds, trying to see if Basil was coming. Her looks were still intact and her light, bright complexion seemed as if it were kissed by the sun. She wore a silk robe and rollers were in her hair as she counted the moments until she got her blast. Frenchie was a single mother and tried her best to provide for her son, but her habit repeatedly kept her from being a good mother. What started as a social hobby had slowly turned into a full-blown crack addiction. Crack cocaine was a new drug, and most people felt it was the “new thing” and didn’t know it would single-handedly ruin an entire generation. She kept thinking about sending her son to cop for her and the sadness piled on heavily. The remorse only made her crave the drug more. She needed something to mask the guilt and pain. She saw Basil approaching her unit and she began to rub her hands together frantically, anticipating the blast of crack she was about to inhale. As soon as Basil walked through the door, Frenchie rushed to him and it seemed as if she were high already. The pure anticipation of smoking had her high.
“Okay, baby. Give Mama her package,” Frenchie said as she reached into her robe’s pocket and began to feel for her glass shooter, a pipe that she used to smoke her drugs. Basil slowly opened his hand, and for the first time he looked down and saw what it held. The beige rock that sat in his hand would change his life forever. Frenchie quickly snatched the baggie and closed it in her hand quickly, as if trying to hide it from Basil’s eyes. However, the damage was already done.
Frenchie hurried to the bathroom to board a first-class flight to cloud nine … leaving Basil standing there, wondering what he had just helped her do.
* * *
After that, Basil scored for his mother all the time. She was a prisoner in her own home. Frenchie would never leave unless it was nighttime or she was in disguise, so as not to run into the dope boys whom she owed.
One morning, at the first of the month, Frenchie received a government-issued check. She was ready to score again. So she prepared Basil for the usual routine: she gave him money so he could go pay a visit to Nephew. It was about noon when Basil headed out for Nephew’s unit, scorching as the sun beamed down. As soon as Basil got a couple steps, he saw a young hustler in a black hoodie approaching. As he got closer, Basil instantly knew who it was, a man by the name of Dog. Dog was tall, slim, and black as tar. He was from down South, so he had an accent and slurred his words with that Southern drawl. He had lazy eyes that made him always seem high. His look alone was scary, especially to a young boy.
“Aye, you! Yo’ mama in there?” he asked aggressively as he approached Basil.
“Nah, she just left,” Basil lied as he gripped the money tightly in his palm.
“Stop lying, little punk. I been standing against that light pole for about two hours,” he said as he pointed to the pole about one hundred feet behind him. Basil was at a loss for words; he didn’t know what to say. He looked up at Dog, who seemed to be seven feet tall, as Dog hovered over him and looked down menacingly.
“She’s gone,” Basil said as he balled up his fist tighter and returned the stare, clenching his jaw. Without warning, Dog’s fist came down hard across Basil’s face, causing him to crumple to the ground.
“Tell yo’ crackhead-ass mama that I want my money. If she don’t pay me my money, I’mma smack yo’ ass every single time I see you,” Dog barked as he looked down at Basil. Basil wanted to cry but he didn’t want to show fear. He stood right back up while holding his mouth. Blood was leaking from his lip and his adrenaline was pumping. He stood firm with his fist balled up while looking up at Dog.
“Oh, you got heart, li’l nigga?” Dog said as he smiled at Basil’s bravery. Basil wanted to fight Dog so bad, but he knew that he was no match. He was afraid. However, he didn’t let it show as he stood firm with his chin up and chest poked out. Basil’s eyes began to water as he felt a pulse in his bottom lip. He had never been hit so hard. Dog smiled, and it was obvious that he was having a great time bullying Basil.
“Like I said, tell that bitch I said I want my money,” Dog said as he walked away and took his position leaning against the light post. Basil dropped a tear of embarrassment and anger. He quickly wiped it away and headed to Nephew’s unit with hatred in his heart for Dog. He began to swing at the air as if he were hitting Dog. I can’t wait until I get older, he thought as he continued to walk. At that moment, he finally understood fully why his mother couldn’t show her face in the projects. She was trying to avoid what had just been bestowed on him by Dog. As Basil got closer to Nephew’s unit, he noticed an all-black shiny car sitting in front of it. The car was like nothing Basil had seen before. He didn’t know it, but he was looking at a Rolls-Royce. The wheels were shiny and it seemed as if sparkles were bouncing off of the car. Basil stood in awe as he gazed at the foreign spaceship before him. Kids began to gather around to admire this car that sat in their projects.
“Man, this is Kane’s car!” one of the kids bragged as he placed his hands on the window and tried to peek inside through the dark tint. Another kid leaned against the car and posed as if he were in a rap video. “When I get on, I’mma cop me a joint like this. I’m gon’ be the biggest dope man the Regency’s ever seen, bruh,” he said proudly while doing his best d-boy stance. Just as Basil approached the crowd, the doors to the unit flew open. A shorter man came out first, carrying a duffle bag, and the next man was Kane Garrett. He wore a three-piece suit and had long, thick sideburns that led into his thick beard. Everyone marveled at him, and it seemed as if they held their breath to focus solely on Kane. He strolled over to his car, but not before his right-hand man opened the door for him. All of the kids stepped back from the car and watched closely. Kane reached into his pocket and pulled out a knot of money that was as thick as a roll of toilet paper. He peeled off hundred-dollar bills and began handing them out to the kids, causing a complete frenzy. Everyone ran up to Kane, trying to get their cut, but not Basil. He played the back and just watched. After Kane rationed out the bills, he looked over at Basil and walked toward him. He looked down and slyly said, “What’s up, li’l man?” then slid a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill in Basil’s top pocket. He got into his car and his henchman closed the door for him. It was smooth as clockwork and just like that he was gone. Basil smiled and admired the man who had just pulled off. That was the first time he met Kane Garrett.
Basil left the crowd and headed to Nephew’s spot. He knocked on the door and moments later Nephew answered. As always, he had a smile on his face when he saw his young friend at the door. Nephew stepped to the side and let Basil in.
“What’s the word, B?” Nephew said as he walked over to his Buddha statue, where he always kept his stash.
“What’s up, Nephew,” Basil answered as he opened his hand, exposing the two crinkled-up fifty-dollar bills that Frenchie had given him. It was the first of the month and Frenchie was planning on getting super high with the government’s money. Nephew grabbed a couple grams out of the Buddha statue and walked over to Basil.
“Listen, I’m going to put you on game,” Nephew said as he looked down at Basil. “I’m going to show you how to make some money. Your ma have friends come over that smoke this shit, right?” Nephew asked, stood over him and smiled, putting a plan together on the fly.
Basil shamefully nodded his head, admitting to what he saw on a nightly basis. Nephew had seen Basil almost every day, copping for his mother or one of her friends, and decided to put him on.
“Okay. Dig this. I’mma show you how to make money. Instead of coming to me when your mother wants some yay … you can serve her,” Nephew instructed.
“Huh?” Basil said in confusion, not fully understanding what Nephew was offering.
“Yay. Rock. Crack,” Nephew explained as he held up the big rock of cooked-up cocaine.“You can serve her,” he repeated as he dropped an eight ball in Basil’s lap. “That’s three grams. I will cut it up for you into twenties. Every rock cost twenty dollars. Got that?”
“Every rock cost twenty dollars?” Basil repeated as he picked up the bag and examined it.
“That’s right. Every rock … twenty dollars. You take five and bring me back fifteen. Every sell, you make money and I make money.”
“I guess I can do that,” Basil said, still slightly confused about what was going on.
“I know it seems hard, li’l nigga. But you will get the hang of it in no time,” Nephew said confidently. “You saw Kane out there?”
“Yeah, he had that dope ride. It was all that,” Basil said, grinning at the thought.
“Right. Well, I’m going to get me one by the end of the summer,” Nephew said as he crossed his arms and smiled as well.
“For real?” Basil said as he lit up like a lightbulb. “Can I ride with you?” he asked excitedly.
“No doubt, li’l man! You are going to be the first one I pick up.”
“Word!” Basil exclaimed.
“But, do you know how I’mma get one?” Nephew asked as the smile slowly crept off his face and he grew a stern, more serious look.
“How?” Basil asked.
“By selling that,” Nephew said as he pointed at the crack. At that moment, things got a bit clearer for Basil. He picked the crack up and looked at it as if it were gold. That’s when he began to equate money with selling drugs. The comprehension of hustling began to sink in.
“Okay. I can do it,” Basil said confidently.
“Let’s get to work, then.” Nephew took a seat next to Basil and reached under the lush couch, then pulled out a shoebox lid with a couple of razors in it. He took the eight ball and began to bust it down, creating pieces. Basil watched as Nephew showed him how to bust it without making it crumble. They sat there and talked for hours, and Basil questioned Nephew as if Nephew were a professor in a college auditorium. Basil was getting a crash course in selling crack, and he was about to grow up rather quickly, with the help of Nephew.
As they were wrapping up and Nephew was sending Basil back home with the product, he noticed Basil’s lip. “What happened to your lip?” Nephew inquired.
“It’s nothing. Dog just roughed me up,” Basil said as he dropped his head in embarrassment.
“Dog?” Nephew asked, instantly becoming irritated. He didn’t like Dog in the slightest.
“Yeah, he was looking for my ma. He slapped me … but I got right back up, though,” Basil said as he poked out his chest.
“Okay. I’mma have a talk with Dog, a’ight?” Nephew said.
Nephew was burning on the inside. Dog was an out-of-towner who’d gotten comfortable in Nephew’s territory. The only reason Nephew hadn’t approached him about the incident was because Dog was one of Kane’s workers. Both of their plugs was Kane, and Nephew didn’t want to cause any friction. However, the news that Dog had put his hands on Basil had him heated. Dog was a grown man, and bullying a child was a no-no in Nephew’s book.
“I shoulda called the police on him,” Basil added, as he thought about how hard he’d got slapped.
“What the fuck you just say?” Nephew asked as he stood up and frowned. Basil instantly grew confused. He didn’t understand what he’d done wrong.
“I said, I shoulda called…” Basil stammered as Nephew stared at him with piercing eyes.
“That’s what I thought you said. Listen up and listen close, because I’m only going to tell you this once. We never call the police under any circumstances—you hear me?” Nephew scolded as he reached down to Basil and grabbed him by the collar. “We hold court in the streets and never talk to the police about anything. Right or wrong, the police business is never street business. You got that?” Nephew said. He wanted to be loud and clear on the rules of the game, and wanted to make sure Basil didn’t get them twisted. In the life they were in, police were the enemy and never to be used as a tool, help, or a scapegoat.
Basil nodded his head and Nephew released his grip. Basil’s heart was pounding and he knew from that day forward that the police weren’t his friend; Nephew had made sure of that.
“Now go on and get out of here. I’ll handle Dog for you,” Nephew said as he fixed Basil’s collar and playfully hit him in the back of the head. Basil quickly exited and returned home to make his first sell … to his own mother.
It was like Nephew had woken up something deeply rooted inside of Basil. From that day forward, Basil worked under Nephew and became a hustler.
Basil continued to make crack runs for his mother, but instead of walking to Nephew’s unit, he would take from his own stash. He would then take a spin around the block and return to serve his mother and her friends. This became a frequent ritual, and Basil got better and better at it. At first Nephew had to give Basil pre-cut rocks, but after a time Basil began to cut his own and could tell the rocks’ weight by eyeing them. He began to get eight balls from Nephew, which was three and a half grams. Basil graduated quickly, became more advanced.
Basil used Lil Noah as his helper and began to give him the same deals as Nephew had initially given him. Lil Noah was a longtime neighbor of Basil’s who was a few years younger than him. Lil Noah looked up to Basil and had dealt with a parent on drugs as well. They were two peas in a pod and cut from the very same cloth. Basil’s clientele expanded from his mother and her friends, to Noah’s mother and her friends, to his whole unit. Basil grew up fast and was learning the ins and outs of a life of hustling. He wasn’t making too much noise in the drug game, but everyone knew that he would be the man when he came of age. It was all in his demeanor. He just had to wait his turn.
* * *
“Please stop! Please!”
A loud commotion woke Basil from his sleep, scaring him. He heard his mother yelling and crying. It was coming from the front room of their small apartment. His heart beat rapidly as he stood up and wiped the sleep from his eyes. He rushed into the front room to see a sight that would haunt his thoughts for a lifetime. Dog was standing over his crying mother with a steel pipe, crashing it down on her hip repeatedly as she screamed for help. Dog looked like a monster as he grinned sinisterly and sweat beads dripped from his forehead.
“You think I’m playing about my fucking money?” he asked just before he struck Frenchie on her hip again with brutal force. Dog grunted, indicating he was using all of his force to punish the poor lady. It was a gruesome sight. Spit flew out of Dog’s mouth as he barked at her about his money. Frenchie screamed in pain as she gripped her maroon-colored, bruised hip and upper leg. Basil instantly rushed over and covered his mother as he began to cry with her. He tried to protect her from another violent hit.
“And what the fuck you doing?” Dog asked as he raised the pipe again while looking down at Basil, trying to protect his mother. Without hesitation, Dog crashed the pipe down on Basil’s back, causing him to scream out in pain. Basil clenched up in agony.
“Please, no! I will pay you your money!” Frenchie screamed in between her cries. Dog tried to answer, but he was too out of breath to respond. Frenchie looked at her son, who was in excruciating pain, and the guilt came crashing down on her. She knew it had been all her fault, bringing this pain into her family. She whispered in Basil’s ear, “Run. Get out of here.”
There was no doubt in her mind that Dog would kill them both. Dog was furious, and at that point, Frenchie only wanted to get Basil out of harm’s away. Basil got up while holding his back in pain. He then darted for the door, and out of instinct, Dog gave chase. Basil’s heart was racing and his back ached with every stride. He heard Dog behind him and he tried to speed up to evade the beating. However, it was to no avail. Dog grabbed Basil by the back of his collar and pulled him to the ground with ease. They were now outside for everyone to see. Dog was high on coke and didn’t care who was watching. He wanted to make a statement in front of them all. He wanted the entire projects to know: don’t fuck with Dog’s money.
Dog looked down at Basil and gave him a swift kick to the midsection, causing Basil to curl up like a lawn chair. A small whimper came from Basil as he gripped his stomach in pain. Dog held the steel pipe that he had gotten from the side of the building earlier. He raised it in the air as if it were a sword and looked around as a couple people began to gather. Neither said anything out of fear that they would be next. Dog gave another kick to Basil, this time in his backside. His size-thirteen Timberland boots felt like hammers. Basil began to cry. He didn’t let out a sound, but the tears fell freely.
“This is what happens when muthafuckas don’t pay Dog,” Dog said, talking about himself in the third person. He raised the steel pipe again to strike Basil, but was surprised when he felt someone grab the pipe. Dog turned around, enraged, not believing someone had the nerve to butt into his business. However, when he saw who it was, his temperature changed immediately. Dog looked into the eyes of his supplier, his boss, and the man who ran the entire city. It was Kane Garrett. Kane had a look in his eyes that Dog had never seen before. Dog looked around and saw Kane’s open car door and his henchman Fat Rat, standing with his arms crossed at the rear of the car, watching his every move.
Kane had come to the projects to handle some unfinished business and pick up money when he saw a crowd forming and the pandemonium. When he saw the child on the ground, he knew he had to step in. Kane, not the type to get his hands dirty, usually wouldn’t have gotten involved. However, his morals wouldn’t let him pass by without stepping in. Kane’s eyes were piercing and he had a menacing scowl on his face. He said nothing, but his eyes told Dog everything that he needed to know. Just as Dog was about to say something, Frenchie appeared, crying her heart out.
“Basil!” she yelled as she limped toward her son. She helped him off the ground the best she could and held him in her arms as she continued to cry. She kept whispering that she was sorry.
“What’s going on here?” Kane asked as he tossed the pole to the side. He then straightened the collar to his well-tailored suit and took a wide stance as he crossed his arms in front of him. His diamond Rolex was on full display and sparkled in the sun.
“This bitch owes me money and I had to show a little muscle to get things handled,” Dog said; he was noticeably calmer than before. Kane looked at Dog without saying anything and analyzed the situation. He then calmly stepped toe to toe with Dog with his jaw clenched and a stern look on his face. He said something to Dog that made Dog’s head drop. Kane spoke so quietly, no one could hear him except Dog. Kane stepped back and waited for Dog to leave. Dog’s head dropped further as he made his exit through the crowd.
Kane walked over to Frenchie and Basil. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money that was neatly folded in a diamond-encrusted money clip. He looked down at Basil and smiled, displaying his pearly white, straight teeth.
“What happened is not to be repeated or talked about after today,” Kane said kindly. He peeled off ten one-hundred-dollar bills and placed them in Frenchie’s hand. Kane looked at her bruised leg, which peeked out of her robe, and quickly looked away. The sight was too much for him. Frenchie looked down at the money in her hand with tears in her eyes. Just as she raised her head to thank Kane, he turned and headed to the car. Fat Rat opened the backseat door for him and he slid in smoothly. Kane was a gangster, effortlessly. Everyone watched as the car took off, in awe, knowing that they had just seen a boss at work.
Frenchie and Basil dropped their heads in embarrassment. They were humiliated in front of their entire community and neither of them had the nerve to look up as they made their way back to their unit. Basil helped his mother as she grunted with every step. They never mentioned what had happened. It was like an unspoken rule between them, and it drew them closer.
Copyright © 2017 by JaQuavis Coleman